Today’s kids are immersed in media. More than ever before, tweens and teens are watching, reading, listening, creating, and communicating throughout their entire day. It’s become harder to distinguish between screen time and just … time. The Common Sense Census found that American teens average about nine hours of media per day and tweens about six per day. This doesn’t include time spent doing homework on a computer or tablet or reading books for school.
Parents should feel empowered to set limits on screens of all sizes. Devices are a huge part of screen time, and kids need support in establishing balance and setting limits. Depending on your family, these rules can be as simple as “no phones at the dinner table” or “no texting after 9 p.m.”
Encourage your kids to be creative, responsible consumers, not just passive users. Media can be incredibly productive, educational, and empowering. Helping younger kids find great content and get access to quality books, complex movies, challenging games, and safe apps and websites fosters a positive relationship with media.
Help kids understand the effects of multitasking. Our research shows tweens and teens think multitasking has no impact on the quality of their homework. As parents, we know that helping kids stay focused will only strengthen interpersonal skills and school performance. Encourage them to manage one task at a time, shutting down social media while working online for homework or engaging in conversation.
Talk the talk, walk the walk. Lead by example by putting your own devices away during family time. Parent role-modeling shows kids the behavior and values you want in your home. Kids will be more open and willing participants when the house rules apply to you, too.
THE 6 TYPES OF RELATIONSHIP-STRENGTHENING CONVERSATIONS INTENTIONAL COUPLES HAVE
“Few dating couples would get married if they had as little focused conversation as most married couples do.” – Dr. Bill Doughty, The Intentional Family
How couples talk to one another and what they discuss determines the way partners stay emotionally connected within their relationship.
For example, dual-income couples with kids, as observed by researchers, focused on mostly talking about household chores, daycare, and groceries.
I don’t know about you, but talking about picking up celery at the grocery store doesn’t make me feel loved.
The key to intentionally creating an intimate relationship is having a variety of conversations, almost like adding different spices to the meals you cook. Each spice offers a new flavor of deliciousness.
Some spices are rather dull but necessary to build baseline substance; some are bitter and are an acquired taste; and others create an indulgent sensation of pleasure.
Type 1: Routine Conversations
Routine conversations include discussions about chores, who’s taking the kids to what, what’s for dinner, and scheduling events, including date night.
These conversations are essential to accomplish practical things and to prevent items from falling through the cracks.
However, most often these conversations do not create a felt sense of emotional connection and intimacy. When Stacy asks Dave to vacuum, it’s unlikely Dave will gaze into her eyes and in a loving voice say, “I am going to vacuum this entire house!”
When couples end up unintentionally devoting the majority of their time and energy to routine conversations, their emotional intimacy will begin to fade, since they end up having nothing left over to energize their relationship.
It’s important to remember to be mindful of your tone of voice and to be conversational, rather than demanding or critical when having these types of conversations. Sometimes the routine conversation about plans can quickly lead to an escalated conflict based on how partners say things.
Couples often fall in love by getting to know each other. And then they often fall out of love because they forget to continue to get to know each other over the years. They stop asking questions and stop learning about each other and themselves.
Being known by and knowing your partner is what builds a strong friendship in your relationship. In secure, happy, and long-lasting relationships, partners are each other’s best friends.1
They share funny stories about the kids or work and listen to each other. Each one knows their partner’s frustrations, as well as their joys, personality quirks, hopes, and dreams.
Couples heading for trouble allow conflicts to consume friendship conversations—so much so that they stop asking intimate questions.
The good news is the research on relationship workshops 2 indicate that couples cherish the idea of becoming close friends and can do so instantly. Being a friend is less about learning skills and more about shifting your attitude.
Friendship talk is the number one way to make sure that you and your partner remain connected and in-tune with one another. The goal of friendship conversations is to have uninterrupted time to just be together and continue to learn about each other.
If you don’t prioritize having friendship talk, and you eventually stop having them completely, both partners will forget why they fell in love with one another (or even why they like each other) in the first place.
“Enhancing friendship in your marriage is an investment that will pay off over time in happiness and relationship satisfaction.” – Fighting For Your Marriage
Type 3: Support Conversations: “I Have Your Back”
When your partner is hurting what do you do? How do you offer support that your partner needs?
“When you’re hurting, the world stops, and I listen.” – Dr. John Gottman
Research has shown that emotional and physical support from a lover enhances personal well-being, especially under stress. 4 Researchers also discovered that feeling confident you can get the support you need and want from your partner is just as important as receiving that support.
“Although there is some mystery about whom we fall in love with, there is less mystery in what makes for a successful, rewarding relationship…Two of the key elements…are a safe haven and a secure base.” – Wyndol Furman
Dr. Furman 5 advises dating partners not to commit to a relationship unless they have been through a difficult time and each found their partner was supportive in a way that was helpful.
Essentially, relationship security is having faith that your partner will be there for you when you need them. This is the essence of a secure attachment bond.
In attachment world, we evaluate how well partners offer each other a safe haven—a place of emotional and physical refuge—when one of them is hurt, and a secure base from which they can go explore the world with curiosity knowing that they have a person who is cheering them on and will be there if needed.
Making time to give and ask for support is a key way in which you can show your partner that you care for them, understand what they’re going through, and have their back. How we provide that support and what we say is crucial. As much as it might be second nature to offer advice to your partner during their trials, support talk involves listening, validating, and just being there for your partner.
Not only does this help them feel secure in the relationship, but also helps put negative assumptions (“she doesn’t care about me”) at ease, so that feelings of not feeling cared for during small events aren’t triggered during more serious events.
Types of support:
Being there physically (in-person, on the phone, via text, etc.).
Doing things you may not normally do that make life easier for your partner when they are going through a stressful time.
Offering encouragement if your partner is going through something stressful, such as a job interview or something scary to them.
Offer emotional support when your partner is going through a difficult time.
Support goals and dreams. “In a successful relationship, your partner encourages you to develop your interest and talents…[Y]our partner is your number-one fan” – Wyndol Furman
Offer physical touch and support, such as a long hug, cuddling, and hand-holding. This offers your partner a felt sense that you are there for them even without saying a word.
It’s important that partners not only offer support but also talk openly about the types of support they need and how they offer support.
Like love languages, some forms of support are more meaningful to your partner, even ones that you may not find meaningful. Learning to offer support in the way that is most meaningful for your partner can drastically improve how supported your partner feels and vice versa.
Type 4: Conversations Centered on Affection and Appreciation
To build a strong relationship, it’s vital to create a culture of love, respect, and care. You can do this in small ways that can create lasting changes over time.
“I appreciate that you took the garbage out today. I love how I can count on you to help out around the house.”
“I love how you listen to what’s going on in my life. It makes me feel important and I appreciate that I can share that with you.”
“I cherish how much you care for our kids. It’s amazing to watch you parent and I truly admire how great of a person you are.”
Can you imagine what your relationship would be like if you and your partner regularly made statements and gestures like this to each other?
Take time to ask your partner what makes them feel most loved:
What makes you feel most loved by me?
What forms of affection, physical or verbal, help you feel important and loved?
Just as there are two experiences in every relationship, there are at least two different ways of feeling loved. Understanding and loving each other in the way each unique partner feels loved keeps the relationship strong.
Type 5: Relationship Enhancement Conversations (Conflict)
As much as we may hate conflict talk, it is necessary to make sure challenges, disagreements, and conflicts are dealt with constructively.
All relationships have conflict, but how lovers talk to each other about challenges determines how well the couple manages the problems to create win-win solutions.
“Within your conflicts, lies the greatest opportunity for intimacy.” – Dr. John Gottman
For couples, I recommend scheduling a weekly State of the Union meeting because the most effective intervention is prevention.
Here is the State of the Union meeting structure:
Set aside 30 minutes to an hour and find a place where both partners can be fully present and engaged. This means no distractions. Finally, check in with yourself to make sure you are ready to talk emotionally and are open to your partner’s experience and perspective.
Share five things you love, cherish, and/or appreciate about your partner. This reminds you that you love each other and are allies.
Pick a speaker and listener. As the listener, ask the speaker the following: “What went well in our relationship this week?” Listen, summarize what you heard, and validate your partner’s experience. Then switch.
Once you both feel like you’ve shared all the positives, then have the listener ask, “What occurred this week that we can improve on?” The goal is just to make a list (if necessary), not to actually start discussing the events or issue. Then switch roles.
After you have your improvement items, pick one key topic and choose a speaker and a listener. Switch roles throughout the conversation and focus only on understanding each other completely.
After both of you can say, “I feel completely understood,” then work together to find an agreeable win-win solution. Even if it is just something temporary you are trying out for the next week. Sometimes you won’t even need this. Just discussing it may be enough because feeling heard and validated is all partners need.
Finish by acknowledging each other for staying engaged and by saying one thing you love about each other. Then ask, “What is one thing I can do to help you feel more loved this week?”
Imagine how much your relationship would improve if you were proactive about what went well and what areas need some adjusting in the relationship?
For those conflict avoiders, doing this actually leads to less “out of nowhere” conflict in the relationship. I know you hate that kind of conflict. Not to mention you might learn a thing or two about what you do well and what your partner cherishes about you.
Do you also notice all the positivity embedded in the conflict conversation?
Trying to guess what turns your partner on by the sounds they make in the bedroom is kind of like pinning the tail on the donkey blindfolded. You’re guessing. This is why openly talking about it can be helpful. 6
Furthermore, research has estimated that 85% of sexual challenges can be resolved by giving partners permission to explore their sexuality and having accurate information about desire, arousal, and sex. 7
In long-term relationships, the tendency is to skip the sensual aspects of lovemaking and get to the mechanics of the peak act.
The lack of time and energy spent playfully and curiously exploring each other’s bodies and minds can lead to partners feeling like they are growing apart or that they are used as an object, rather than being relished in as a sexual being.
“There needs to be a place for romance and for sexual talking and touching your relationship – both in and outside the context of making love.” – Fighting for Your Marriage.
Create a body map of your partner and while touching all parts of their body they are comfortable with you touching, make a mental note of the areas they find sensitive and pleasurable.
Passionately kiss your partner at random times without getting intimate.
Take your time exploring each other’s genitals and exploring your own. They’re all beautiful. (Hint: Read Come As You Are to learn more about your body)
Try novel places, positions, and ways of touching or being intimate with each other.
Ask each other questions to learn about each other’s turn-ons and -offs. (Hint: The Gottman Card App has questions about sex).
Make sure your relationship is strong, too. Often it is not having a strong friendship, lacking commitment, feelings of insecurity, or nasty conflict that cause sexual desire to die in a relationship.
Read some books and watch videos from certified sex educators, who embody sex positivity, to learn more about yourself and your partner.
How many of these types of conversations do you have in your relationship? What types of conversations would you like to have more of?
It is my belief that lovers should be each other’s best friends. Research from Gottman, Prep, and other approaches. I think this can also be taken too far if romantic partners expect and sometimes demand their partners to be everything for them. Esther Perel talks more about this in her Ted Talk. ↩
(a)Babcock, J. C., Gottman, J. M., Kimberly, D. R., & Gottman, J. S. (2013). A component analysis of a brief psycho-educational couples’ workshop: one-year follow-up results. Journal of Family Therapy, 35, 252–280. doi: 10.1111/1467-6427.12017. (b)Hawkins, A. J., Blanchard, V. L., Baldwin, S. A., & Fawcett, E. B. (2008). Does marriage and relationship education work? A meta-analytic study. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76, 723–734. ↩
(a)Bodenmann, G., & Shantinath, S.D. (2004). The Couples Coping Enhancement Training (CCET): A new approach to prevention of marital distress based upon stress and coping. Family Relations, 53, 477–484 (b)Johnson S.M., Moser M.B., Beckes L., Smith A., Dalgleish T., et al. (2014) Correction: Soothing the Threatened Brain: Leveraging Contact Comfort with Emotionally Focused Therapy. PLOS ONE, 9(8): 1054-1089. ↩
Furmen, W. (2001). What should fools find in love? In J. R. Levine & H. J. Markman (Eds.), Why do fools fall in love? San Francisco: Jossey Bass. 67-71 ↩
This can be difficult depending on family, religious, and cultural messaging. If you are open, I would challenge exploring this so you can have a more positive relationship with your sexuality. ↩
This comes from research on the PLISSIT model of sexual education and therapy. For example, John was sexually frustrated with Jane because she never initiated sex. John’s sex-ed courses never taught him that men, typically, tend to have more spontaneous sexual desire than women. And women typically have a more responsive sexual desire that is context-dependent. By strengthening the romantic relationship and creating an environment for responsive desire in the relationship the sexual frustration was no longer an issue. ↩
Covenant Eyes users might think, “What does this mean for my struggle with porn? How should we approach this diagnosis?” These are important questions that I want to help you think thoroughly about.
What Is Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder?
If you care to read the official definition for CSBD, here it is. These types of definitions can be technical, but they’re important to understand:
“Compulsive sexual behavior disorder is characterized by a persistent pattern of failure to control intense repetitive sexual impulses or urges, resulting in repetitive sexual behavior over an extended period (e.g., six months or more) that causes marked distress or impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”
What are the implications of this that we can clearly affirm?
There are good expressions of sexual behavior and bad expressions of sexual behavior. The ICD would say healthy and unhealthy. Christians would add holy and unholy. Healthiness and holiness are not competing concepts, and both should be considered important in this conversation.
Sexual behavior has the propensity to be ensnaring and can disrupt many areas of life. This is aligned with the Christian view that sin has a predatory intent to destroy people’s lives.
For a habit to become enslaving, an extended period of repetition is required. This is common sense.
Pornography is not a victimless activity; many people are negatively affected. This counters one of the most common lies in our culture about the innocence of viewing pornography.
There is hope for change. The entire point of placing diagnoses in the ICD is that these diagnoses represent experiences for which some degree of freedom or relief is possible.
Why Was CSBD Included as a Diagnosis?
While it may get a little nerdy, to evaluate the inclusion of CSBD in this diagnostic structure we also need to consider why this diagnosis was added.
“Although this category resembles that of substance dependence, it is included in the ICD‐11 impulse control disorders section in recognition of the lack of definitive information on whether the processes involved in the development and maintenance of the disorder are equivalent to those observed in substance use disorders and behavioral addictions. Its inclusion in the ICD‐11 will help to address unmet needs of treatment seeking patients, as well as possibly reducing the shame and guilt that distressed individuals associate with seeking help.”
So to summarize:
Researchers are unsure if CSBD has the same physiological features as substance dependence. Uncertainty on this point is why they don’t use the more common label of sexual addiction to describe this experience.
A large number of people struggle with compulsive sexual behavior. Diagnoses are included in the ICD when it becomes common enough that clinicians see an increase in prevalence for an experience.
The official diagnosis makes it easier for these individuals to be reimbursed for counseling. Insurance companies require a diagnostic code to reimburse for services, which made it difficult for individuals to receive counseling. Adding a diagnosis to the ICD is as much about third party reimbursement as it about discovering something new.
It allows for better research on compulsive sexual behavior. Research helps us to differentiate speculation from empirically verifiable approaches to working with a given life struggle. This kind of research should enrich both professional and lay-based care strategies.
Does This New Recognition Present Any Concerns?
Sexual behavioral can get out of control. When it does, lots of people are affected, and WHO wants insurance companies to reimburse for counseling. If we want people to be free from destructive sexual behavior, this all seems fine. But are there any reasons to be cautious with this new label?
When a pattern of behavior receives a diagnostic label, it often creates an external locus of control. Diagnostic labels lead us to think something is happening to us rather than being done by us. There is some concern that this label could reinforce a sense of passivity towards change and a lack of ownership for one’s choices.
The moral nature of the activity can be lost with a label. Too often we fail to realize that something can be both unhealthy and immoral. We treat it as an either-or instead of a both-and. There is some concern that this diagnostic label could distract from the role of repentance in change.
Also, we often assume the remedy for a diagnosis will be medicinal. Again, this doesn’t need to be either-or. The remedy for diabetes involves both insulin and exercise. If there is a medicine that can help with impulse control, we should be happy. But regardless, the fruit of the Spirit known as “self-control” will be required in both taking the medicine as prescribed and other behavioral choices towards righteous living.
How Should We Approach This New Diagnosis?
The answer to this question will vary from person to person. Diagnostic labels are a tool. Any tool can be used for good purposes. In contrast, any tool can also be used for destructive purposes. The problem with tools is usually not with the tool, but with how a given individual utilizes that tool.
If you serve as an ally for someone who comes across this new diagnosis, affirm the following:
Your friend is not alone in their struggle. This can help alleviate some of the stigma associated with sexual sin.
Sexual activity has an enslaving tendency. If someone fights a bear and loses, we don’t call them weak. It’s the nature of the bear to be stronger. When someone engages sexual sin and becomes enslaved, it doesn’t mean they’re uniquely weak. It means it’s the nature of this activity to be enslaving.
Even secular health experts (meaning, those without the bias of Christian morals) want individuals enslaved to sexual activity to have access to help in the pursuit of freedom. Appealing to secular experts helps reveal the frustration point, “I only need to change because I’m a Christian and God’s hung up about sex,”which is not true.
If you serve as an ally for someone who comes across this new diagnosis, caution the following:
Your choices matter. A label can explain why change is hard; it is not a reason to quit trying.
Abstinence and repentance are not the same thing. A secular counselor would just want you to stop engaging in self-destructive behavior (abstinence). God invites you to a restored relationship with Him (repentance).
No amount of science will make change easy. But the work is worth it. If there is anything we can learn from science to make our efforts at change more effective, we will. But just like science has taught us a great deal about dieting, those advances in science haven’t made losing weight easy. Peer support and wise choices are still the central elements to change. So, let’s keep going together.
If you are interested in history of diagnostics, I would recommend Allen Frances’ book Saving Normal. Dr. Frances is a psychiatrist who loves his profession but is concerned about overmedicating normal physical struggles. Here is a brief excerpt from his book and few reflections to whet your appetite to read more.
HELICOPTER PARENTING: FROM GOOD INTENTIONS TO POOR OUTCOMES
Do you stand over your child’s shoulder when they do their homework? Do you find yourself directing your kids’ every move? “Pick up this, clean up that, sit up straight, finish your homework, study hard, say thank you.” Do you spend a good chunk of your day obsessing about your children’s success, like will they make the sports team or school play, and will they get into the top-notch college you (yes, you!) always dreamed of?
I hate to break it to you, but you may be a helicopter parent—a term which is commonly used but also has a basis in research on specific parenting behaviors and their effects on children.
Most parents want the very best for their children, and so they’ll go to great lengths to be wonderful providers and protectors. The deep love and care that parents have for their children can even push parents to, well, be a bit over-the-top. And helicopter parents are known to be overly protective and involved in their children’s lives.
The term paints a picture of a parent who hovers over their children, always on alert, and who swoops in to rescue them at the first sign of trouble or disappointment. The term was first coined in 1990 by Foster Cline and Jim Fay in their book, Parenting with Love and Logic, and it gained relevance with college admissions staff who noticed how parents of prospective students were inserting themselves in the admissions process.
Helicopter parenting can be defined by three types of behaviors that parents exemplify:
First, information seeking behaviors include knowing your children’s daily schedule and where they are at all times, helping them make decisions, and being informed about grades and other accomplishments.
Second, direct intervention means jumping into conflicts with kids’ roommates, friends, romantic partners, and even bosses.
Third, autonomy limiting is when students think their parents are preventing them from making their own mistakes, controlling their lives for them, and failing to support their decisions.
We all want to love our children as much as possible and protect them from the dangers in our society. We live in an increasingly competitive world and want to give our kids every advantage possible. But if we over-parent and smother them, it can backfire big time. A collection of research in recent years shows a connection between helicopter parenting and mental health issues like anxiety and depression as children get older and try to make it on their own.
The negative impacts of helicopter parenting
In 2010, a study by researcher Neil Montgomery, a psychologist at Keene State College in New Hampshire, found that overprotective parents might have a lasting impact on their child’s personality by prolonging childhood and adolescence. Approximately 300 college freshmen were surveyed about their level of agreement with statements regarding their parents’ involvement in their lives. The results showed that 10 percent of the participants had helicopter parents. The research also revealed that students with helicopter parents tended to be less open to new ideas and actions, and were more vulnerable, anxious, dependent, and self-conscious.
A 2016 study from the National University of Singapore published in the Journal of Personality indicated that children with intrusive parents who had high expectations for academic performance, or who overreacted when they made a mistake, tend to be more self-critical, anxious, or depressed. The researchers termed this as “maladaptive perfectionism,” or a tendency in children of helicopter parents to be afraid of making mistakes and to blame themselves for not being perfect. This happens because the parents are essentially—whether by their words or actions—indicating to their kids that what they do is never good enough.
Another 2016 study evaluated questionnaires about parenting completed by 377 students from a Midwestern university. Students responded to statements about the type of parents they have, how often they communicate with their parents, and how much their parents intrude in their lives. The students also completed a number of tests to discern their decision-making skills, academic performance, and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Results showed that higher overall helicopter parenting scores were associated with stronger symptoms of anxiety and depression.
According to that study, helicopter parenting “was also associated with poorer functioning in emotional functioning, decision making, and academic functioning. Parents’ information-seeking behaviors, when done in absences of other [helicopter parenting] behaviors, were associated with better decision making and academic functioning.”
In addition, the journal Cognitive Therapy and Researchpublished research in 2017 suggesting that helicopter parenting can trigger anxiety in kids who already struggle with some social issues. A group of children and their parents were asked to complete as many puzzles as possible in a 10-minute time period. Parents were allowed to help their children, but not encouraged to do so.
Researchers noted that the parents of children with social issues touched the puzzles more often than the other parents did. Though they were not critical or negative, they stepped in even when their children did not ask for help. Researchers think this indicates that parents of socially anxious children may perceive challenges to be more threatening than the child thinks they are. Over time, this can diminish a child’s ability to succeed on their own and potentially increase anxiety.
So how does all this hovering cause mental health problems in our children?
First of all, helicopter parents are communicating to their children in subtle (or not-so-subtle) ways that they won’t be safe unless mom or dad is there looking out for them. When these children have to go off on their own, they are not prepared to meet daily challenges. This inability to find creative solutions and make decisions on their own can cause a great deal of worry since their protector is no longer around to help them.
Because these children were never taught the skills to function independently, and because they may have been held to unattainable or even “perfectionist” standards, children of helicopter parents can experience anxiety, depression, a lack of confidence, and low self-esteem. Another issue is that if these kids have never experienced failure, they can develop an overwhelming fear of failure and of disappointing others. Finally, if we don’t let our children have the freedom to learn about the world and discover their purpose and what makes them happy, they will struggle to find happiness and live a balanced life—all impacting their mental health.
What we can do to break the helicopter habit
All parents know that parenting is not easy. Having children and raising them presents innumerable challenges and surprises, but also immense joy and connection. Now that we know that overparenting only leads to more problems for our kids, we can make the following adjustments in our parenting approach:
Support your children’s growth and independence by listening to them, and not always pushing your desires on them.
Don’t try to help your children escape consequences for their actions unless you believe those consequences are unfair or life-altering.
Don’t raise your child to expect to be treated differently than other children.
Encourage your children to solve their own problems by asking them to come up with creative solutions.
Teach your children to speak up for themselves in a respectful manner.
Understand and accept your children’s weaknesses and strengths, and help them to use their strengths to achieve their own goals.
Parents should, of course, do the best they can for their kids. Impulses to involve ourselves in our children’s’ lives often come from a sense of duty, and of unconditional love. We can harness those desires to give the most we can to our kids by resisting helicopter parenting, which can lead to poor outcomes in adulthood.
Instead, try letting your children discover themselves—their weaknesses, strengths, their goals and dreams. You can help them succeed, but you should also let them fail. Teach them how to try again. Learning what failure means, how it feels, and how to bounce back is an important part of becoming independent in our world.
Take it from a middle school teacher and mom: Kids need to
manage their online activities — and parents need to help them do it.
This article is part of Common Sense
Media’s Parent Voices series, which provides a platform for opinions about
parenting in the digital age. All ideas expressed are the writer’s own.
Last year Fortnite invaded
my middle school classroom — as I believe it did to middle school classrooms
across the country. Students who were usually on task and high-performing were
nodding off and “forgetting”
to do their homework. The morning conversations about how late they stayed up or
who was the last man
standing became part of our early morning check-ins. Then the
phone calls with parents started: Over several months, I had numerous telephone
and after-school meetings with parents concerned about their kids’ performance.
When I brought up screen time,
there were a range of reactions. Some parents seemed oblivious as
to what their children were doing after hours, some didn’t know how to rein in
screen time, and some thought they had it all under control — but clearly did
I get it. I’m not just a teacher: I’m
a mom who struggles with screen time, too. I spent last summer trying
to keep my own middle school daughter unplugged in the rural English
countryside. After the first week, when the iPad started appearing little by
little, I tried to use my own advice — “However much you read
is how much screen time you get” — and reasoning, “Make sure you
balance your learning games with your other games.” But then I’d hear my
daughter yelling at a friend who’d just left her online game, and I’d feel like
I’d lost the battle.
The thing is, I’m not anti-screen.
I’ve seen technology bring some amazing teaching
momentsto my classroom — and to my own life. One student, whom I
could never get to write a complete sentence on paper, wrote the most heartfelt
poem about how he “nearly won” in Fortnite.
It became his breakthrough,
and he hasn’t stopped writing since. Other kids made parallels to the dystopian books they
were reading and wrote very poignant compare-and-contrast papers to prove their
points. And, far away from her friends in the United States, my daughter was
able to stay in touch with her friends online, keep herself occupied with Roblox,
and feel a part of pop culture by watching every Miranda Sings video
Those breakthrough moments of
connection, creativity, and critical thinking are what I strive for as a
teacher and a mother. What it tells me is that however parents handle the
management of their kids’ screen time, it really does have to be a balance. And
knowing middle school kids as well as I do, I know that they aren’t always able
to shut downFortnite or YouTube without the
guidance and support of their
parents. I’ve also discovered that tech is never going to be a
one-size-fits-all thing. What works for some kids will not work for others.
Finding what is best for your family can involve a bit of trial and error.
These are the strategies that worked
for many of my parents last year and that I’m sure I will be trying with my
middle schooler this year:
Be present. Know
what your child is playing and when. That seems simple, but it is so important.
So many of my parents last year had no idea that their child was staying up
until all hours in the morning playing games. I heard more than once, “I
have never had to worry about their screen use. They have been so good up until
now.” I remind them that this is middle school, they are not bad kids, and
they are just testing the boundaries — so set them!
Control the Wi-Fi. I touched base with some of my parents after their children made
improvements in class, and I found that they had put in place simple household
internet controls. The kids had passwords to access the internet, and the
parents put a time limit on when the password could be used. Please note that a
few of my tech-savvy kids confided that they were able to “override”
Remove the temptation. Some families took all screens out of the children’s
bedrooms and stored cellphones in a locked charging box until morning. This
might seem extreme, but I know for at least one of my students this worked. He
was struggling socially and trying so hard to fit in with a certain crowd. He
later acknowledged that he needed help — beyond the gaming community.
Parental-control apps. I’ve had students tell their parents that they have online
homework to do and then end up playing a game instead. Parental-control apps
can help, but it takes some research to find the right one for your needs. Making
the homework space at the dining room table or another central location can
make it easier to keep an eye on kids, too.
need downtime. I have these hormonal, opinionated, stressed-out middle
schoolers for two hours a day, and I push them. I know that the other teachers
at my school also carry high expectations. Finding time to completely unplug is
important. One parent told me today that they have a hard rule of no screen
time except for homework on weekdays, and the way to lose weekend play time is
by breaking that rule. I personally allow weekday screen time, but I reserve
the right to change my mind.
My older daughter was less than a week old when the
Sandy Hook school shooting happened. I remember clutching her body to my chest
and watching cable news, horrified by the world I had brought her into. For
days after, I worried about taking her outside our home and into crowded
places. I had a pungent, spiky fear that felt very real in the moment. If
someone could gun down a bunch of 6-year-olds, I thought at the time, the
notion of safety was ephemeral.
Parenting is an ongoing process of learning to
tolerate the idea “that you cannot entirely keep your children safe,” said Dr.
Alexandra Sacks, M.D., a reproductive psychiatrist based in New York City, who
called this struggle the “existential paradox” of parenthood.
I spoke to two psychiatrists and two pediatricians about
how parents — and their children — can deal with increased anxiety and fear in
the aftermath of these shootings.
Understand that a few days of
increased anxiety is normal. “It’s an appropriate response
to a really traumatic event,” said Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, M.D., a clinical
assistant professor of psychiatry at the George Washington University School of
Medicine. If you need more downtime at home in the few days after such
upsetting violence, you should feel empowered to take that space, Dr. Lakshmin
said. And acknowledging your feelings is key — avoiding or pushing them down
won’t make them go away.
Reach out to parent friends. Connecting with your community to talk through fears can help, Dr.
Lakshmin said. That’s particularly true for parents of color or those from
religious minorities, who may feel especially acute anxiety in this moment
because of the white extremist ideology of
many recent mass shooters.
Try to stick to your routine. “Every time a shooting happens, our sense of reality falls apart,”
Dr. Lakshmin said. “The world you thought you were living in is not the world
you’re actually in.” So trying to maintain your routine keeps you tethered to
your day-to-day life. Overcoming your fears by taking your kids to the park, to
the store or to camp as planned can help to keep the anxiety from overwhelming
Channel anxiety into action. Finding a way to contribute in the aftermath of a tragedy, whether
by volunteering with organizations that work to prevent mass shootings or by
helping a community affected, can help redirect your fears, Dr. Sacks
said. The El Paso Times published
recommendations for its community, as did the Dayton Daily News.
Step away from the news. If you find that reading or viewing the details of violent events
is triggering your anxiety, try to edit your media diet, Dr. Sacks said. “I do
hear from parents that they can be drawn to catastrophic things that happen
with children in the news,” she said. “It’s incredibly painful to them, but
they feel a pull toward these stories in their empathy and identification.”
It’s helpful to minimize kids’ exposure to news as well,
said Dr. Jackie Douge, M.D., a pediatrician based in Maryland and a fellow at
the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Don’t dodge the hard
conversations. If you suspect your kids know about
an incidence of mass violence, you should ask them what they have heard, said
Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, M.D., an attending physician at the Ann and Robert H.
Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. “You don’t want to give so much
information that you’re introducing trauma yourself,” Dr. Heard-Garris said.
But “you also want them to trust you,” that you’re not hiding difficult things
from them. If you start with what they know, you “can try to address any
misconceptions, or rumors, any anxieties right then and there,” she said.
While “it’s affecting all children” negatively to hear about particular communities singled out for violence, Dr. Heard-Garris said, parents of kids who hear about their religious or racial communities being targeted can send them the following message: “I know there’s a lot of bad stuff happening in the world, but it’s my job as a parent to try to keep you safe.”
Know when to get help. If you find that you’re anxious for more than a week, or if your
sleep, eating or other routines are disrupted, it may be time to talk to a
therapist. “If you’re finding these intrusive thoughts are not controllable and
they become so loud that you’re taking a circuitous route to get to work, or
not letting your kids go to soccer practice, that’s when I would say it’s time
to see a therapist and have a more structured space to unpack these fears,” Dr.
The same goes for your kids — a little additional fear
or anxiety is normal after traumatic events, but if their anxiety is affecting
their relationships, sleep or their behavior at school, talk to your primary
care provider, Dr. Douge said.
Your child’s fears may be triggered again by school
lockdown drills, which millions of children
experience each year, and which may leave kids traumatized. All
you can do with the recurrence of fear is to reassure kids that these tragic
events are still rare, overall, and that their home is a safe place for them to
unpack their worries. Tell them: “Your teachers, your doctor, your pastor or
rabbi, we love and care about you,” Dr. Heard-Garris said, and that home is
“where they have this refuge from this crazy world.”
JOHN GOTTMAN AND BRENÉ BROWN ON RUNNING HEADLONG INTO HEARTBREAK
To a seasoned couples
therapist, the telltale signs of a relationship in crisis are universal. While
every marriage is unique, with distinct memories and stories that capture its
essence, how it looks at its core, the anatomy so-to-speak, adheres to certain
truths. The bones of love, what builds trust (and breaks it), what fosters
connection (and disconnection) we have widely come to understand through the
work of Dr. John Gottman.
Gottman, renowned for
his research on marital stability and demise,
and recognized as one of the ten most influential psychotherapists of the past
quarter-century, has at this stage of his career amassed over 40 years of
research with 3,000 participants. The quality and breadth of his studies are
recognized as some of the finest and most exemplary data we have to date, and
serve as an underpinning for how we understand what makes love work.
Enter Brené Brown, a
self-described researcher, storyteller, and Texan. She’s gritty and funny, and
like Gottman, a formidable researcher. Over the past two decades, Brown has
studied shame, vulnerability, courage, and empathy. She’s published five New
York Times #1 bestsellers, and over 40 million people have viewed
her TED Talk on vulnerability. Her passion
for living a wholehearted life is contagious and convincing. Her research has
confirmed a core human need to belong and connect, and at a time when many of
us are feeling the absence of such, she’s tapping a deep well—inspiring a tribe
of the wholehearted, people committed to practicing shame-resilience, Daring Greatly, and embracing vulnerability.
Gottman coined the term
“Masters of marriage” to describe the couples in his research whose
relationships not only endure, but thrive. These are people who cultivate
trust, commitment, responsiveness, and an ability to cherish their partner’s
feelings throughout a lifetime. Brown speaks of the “wholehearted” individuals
who engage their lives from a place of worthiness. They cultivate courage,
compassion, and connection. Both groups, the masters of marriage and the
wholehearted, display a host of traits that we now know are associated with
health and thriving.
Having had the good
fortune to train in both the Gottman Method and The Daring Way® (an
experiential methodology based on the research of Brené Brown), I cannot help
but wonder, what life would be like if we could take our cues from the masters
of marriage and the wholehearted? How might this shape who we
are as individuals in a partnership? What might the ripple effects be to our
children and society at large if we aspire to love as Gottman and Brown are
The implications of
following in the footsteps of the masters and the wholehearted are huge. The
Harvard Study of Adult Development, the most extensive study of its
kind, has taught us three things. First, that loneliness can kill as surely as
smoking or alcoholism, and that when we are connected, we live longer and
healthier lives. Second, the quality of our relationships matter. It’s not the
number of friends we have, or whether or not we are in a committed relationship
that predicts thriving. Being in a high-conflict marriage is bad for one’s
health. It is worse than divorce. Third, good relationships don’t just protect
our health. They protect our mind. Memory loss and cognitive decline are more
prevalent in lives permeated by conflict and disconnection.
And if that is not
compelling enough, Brown’s research on the implications of shame paints a
similarly grim picture, depicting shame as correlated with loneliness,
depression, suicidality, abuse, trauma, bullying, addiction, and anxiety.
So while love may not
heal all wounds, it is undoubtedly a panacea for preventing them.
Gottman and Brown give us
a map—a macro perspective of the wilderness of our hearts, and the wildness of
love. It’s a rocky path, fraught with challenges and risk. But vulnerability is
inherent in any stance that places courage above comfort. And should we decide
to follow it, the destination it promises to take us to is nothing short of
paradox of trust
Gottman, in his
book The Science of
Trust, astutely asserts that loneliness is (in part) the
inability to trust. And sadly, the failure to trust tends to perpetuate itself.
For when we don’t trust, over time, we become less able to read other people
and deficient in empathy. He states, “Lonely people are caught in a spiral that
keeps them away from others, partly because they withdraw to avoid the
potential hurt that could occur from trusting the wrong person. So they trust
nobody, even the trustworthy.”
According to both
researchers, it’s the small interactions rather than grand gestures that build
trust and break it. “Sliding door moments,” as Gottman calls them, are the
seemingly inconsequential day-to-day interactions we have over breakfast, while
riding in the car, or standing in the kitchen at 9 p.m. Within each act of
communication, there is an opportunity to build a connection. And when we don’t
seize it, an insidious erosion of trust ensues, slowly overtime.
Our relationships do not
die from one swift blow. They die from the thousand tiny cuts that precede it.
But choosing to trust is
all about tolerance for risk, and our histories (both in childhood and with our
partners) can inform how much we are willing to gamble. Brown speaks to the
paradox of trust: we must risk vulnerability in order to build trust, and
simultaneously, it is the building of trust that inspires vulnerability. And
she recommends cultivating a delicate balance, one where we are generous in our
assumptions of others and simultaneously able to set firm boundaries as a means
to afford such generosity—being soft and tough at the same time, no small
our stories write us
According to Gottman, the
final harbinger of a relationship ending is in how couples recall memories and
the stories they tell. Memories, it turns out, are not static. They evolve,
change, and are a living work-in-progress. When a relationship is nearing its
end, at least one person is likely to carry a story inside themselves that no
longer recollects the warm feelings they once had for their partner.
Instead, a new narrative
evolves, maximizing their partner’s negative traits, and quite likely,
minimizing their own. “Self-righteous indignation” as Gottman aptly refers to
it is a subtle form of contempt and is sulfuric acid for love. This story,
laced with blame and bad memories, is the strongest indicator of an impending
breakup or divorce.
But, as Brown cautions,
“We are meaning-making machines wired for survival. Anytime something bad
happens, we scramble to make up a story, and our brain does not care if the
story is right or wrong, and most likely, it is wrong.” She points out that in
research when a story has limited data points, it is a conspiracy, and a lie
told honestly is a confabulation.
In social psychology,
this pre-wired bias is referred to as the fundamental attribution error (FAE).
The FAE speaks to our tendency to believe that others do bad things because
they are bad people, and to ignore evidence to the contrary while
simultaneously having a blind spot that allows us to minimize or overlook what
our behaviors say about our character. In short, we are partial to giving
ourselves a pass while not extending the same generosity to others.
When our minds trick us
into believing we know what our partner’s intentions, feelings, and motives are
we enter a very dark wood—one where we truly can no longer see the forest for
the trees. The ramifications of this are significant because the stories we
tell ourselves dictate how we treat people.
In portraying ourselves
as a hero or victim, we no longer ally with the relationship, but rather, armor
up and see our partner as the enemy. And if memory is malleable, and we’re
prone to spinning conspiracies and confabulations, there is a strong likelihood
that we run the risk of hurting ourselves and those we love in assuming this
tendencies towards mishaps and misperceptions is not easy. It requires a
certain humility, grace, and intentionality. But as Stan Tatkin points out in
his TED talk, Relationships are Hard, “We are mostly
misunderstanding each other much of the time, and if we assume our
communication, memory, and perception is the real truth, that is hubris.”
The wholehearted and
masters of marriage bypass such hubris and navigate the terrain of
relationships differently than those who get lost in the wood. If we want our
relationships and quality of life to thrive, it’s essential we take our cues
from them and cultivate new habits.
emotions (and the suck)
To do so, we must first
expand our emotional repertoire to include a wide range of feelings, not just
our go-to ones. “Emotion-embracing,” as Gottman calls it, is a central building
block for healthy relationships. We are aiming for what Pixar’s Inside Out so
brilliantly depicts: inviting sadness, joy, anger, disgust, and fear all to the
Put simply, Brown
suggests we “embrace the suck,” stating that the wholehearted demonstrate a
capacity to recognize when they’re emotionally ensnared and get curious about
their feelings and perceptions.
Both Gottman and Brown
draw on the Stone Center’s Strategies of Disconnection, which
propose that people respond in one of three ways when hurt: by moving away,
moving toward, or moving against that which feels painful. And what I find
interesting is that while Gottman advocates for turning toward your partner
when injured, and Brown speaks more to leaning into (and getting curious about)
our own uncomfortable emotions, both are emotion-embracing and courageous
stances that emphasize mutuality over individualism.
Unfortunately, most of us
are not taught as children to embrace painful feelings. It’s counterintuitive
and goes against our neurobiological wiring. If we have a traumatic history,
all the more so. And our society by-and-large is an emotion-dismissing culture.
But as Brown cautions, there’s a price to pay when we selectively numb
emotions: when we numb our painful feelings, we also numb our positive ones.
So, if we want the good things in life (and I think most of us want the good
things), then it’s a package deal.
If the most significant
indicator that a relationship has reached a tipping point is a rewritten story
devoid of fond memories, then it stands to reason that a narrative free from
blame, interwoven with curiosity and even goodwill is indicative of love that
will last. Therefore, one of the central tasks of any healthy relationship is
to co-create stories from a lens of “we” versus “me.”
It involves little (and
big) reckonings as Brown calls them, sliding door moments where we pause long
enough to reflect and ask ourselves (and each other), “What is going on right
now?” Together, we cultivate a broader understanding of a disagreement or hurt
feelings, one not possible when left alone in our heads to spin narratives that
defend our most vulnerable parts and simultaneously ensure that we will go to
our grave more swiftly, lonely, and armored.
When I reflect on the
lessons of Gottman and Brown, one concept stands out: we must run headlong into
heartbreak because there are things far worse than having our hearts broken.
Such as the harm we inflict on our loved ones when we disown pain and transmit
it onto them. And the legacy of trauma that ripples into our children’s hearts
and the generations to come—veiling us in a seemingly impermeable barrier to
vulnerability and all the fruits that go with it.
And let us not forget the
Harvard Study of Adult Development and the toll that a conflict-laden life
combined with emotion-dismissing has on our health.
Yes, running headlong
into heartbreak is running directly into vulnerability. It involves
uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. But, as Brown reminds us,
vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and
Should we choose this
path, there will be moments (likely many) where we find ourselves facedown in
the dirt because the road to wholeheartedness guarantees we will get our hearts
broken—again and again. But, in choosing to embrace heartbreak, we empower
ourselves to experience the myriad of ways love manifests itself and the beauty
life affords us. In the end, it’s not a question of if we will experience
heartbreak but of how.
When you look at pornography, what you end up
seeing is a long line of naked bodies. When you look at pornography for years,
you end up seeing years and years’ worth of long lines of naked bodies.
I do a lot of work with guys who, in their
past, looked at porn for years. They don’t look at porn anymore, but they have
a very hard time controlling where their eyes go when real-life women approach
them. While it seems natural that we should be able to control the physical
movements of our eyes, the connection between exposure to pornography and how
it conditions us should not be such a surprise. It is, in fact, one of the
greatest tragedies caused by porn.
Porn teaches men that women are bodies. I’m
using a broad definition of the word “porn” here. I’m referring to any
seductive display of a woman’s naked body, whether that’s a pornographic video,
a Playboy image, or a scene from Game of Thrones. I’d
even throw in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, the
gateway to porn for scores of men, as its seductive photos have created the
same conditioned response: women are bodies.
We know this message
isn’t true, and we’ve seen its tragic consequences in our culture, yet it
continues every time a pornographic image is consumed.
A Hyperbolic Example
Let’s look at a hyperbolic example. A baby boy
is born on an island separated from the human population. All he sees his
entire life are videos and images of nude women either having sex, desiring
sex, or posing seductively.
Then, at age 25, he is placed into the general
human population. How is he going to view the women that he meets and interacts
with every day?
That’s a scary thought, but it shouldn’t be
surprising. He’s going to see women as two-dimensional sets of body parts whose
only purpose for existing is his own sexual gratification. This has nothing to
do with how a woman is dressed, for this will happen regardless of the style or
fashion. Throughout his entire life his eyes have darted straight to her body
parts, so that’s what they will continue to do, because he thinks that’s what a
I say some of this because I’m still shocked
at how secular culture can embrace pornography in all its forms, yet somehow
not see the connection between it and the sexual objectification and abuse of
women in the real world.
But I also say it to set the table for the
real men who are now caught in the trap they have built for themselves over
years of being conditioned by porn. Most of us are at a point where we aren’t
condemning the man who is looking at porn, or who has looked at it in his past,
but are extending a hand of grace and help. But now this man’s physiological
responses to women have been trained to see them as sexual objects and to
subconsciously glance at their body parts as a now-instinctive act of
consumption and gratification.
Can this conditioned response be stopped?
The good news is, it can be. But not without
some intentionality and hard work. For most men it will take more than a sermon
or a lecture to get their eyes to do what their mind and heart want.
The Problem with the Porn Mindset
The foundation of this rewiring process begins
with our approach to how and why we are avoiding pornography in the first
place. If you’ve been told to not look at pornography because it’s bad and
sinful to do it, you might be able to cut out porn from your life, but your
porn mindset is likely to remain. Porn did something to your mind, something
that has to be undone. More than just training yourself to avoid pornography,
you have to rewire your mind from the porn mindset.
The problem with the porn
mindset is it doesn’t see all of a woman (or man), it only
sees their body parts. We all know we are more than body parts.
We all know our mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives are more than body
parts. We know that we are all complex beings. We know that what makes
relationships both rewarding and challenging is that we are complex beings.
Every woman, just like every man, has strengths, weaknesses, stressors,
anxieties, pain, joy, personality, values, and a long list of other attributes
that separate humans from the animals.
for sex doesn’t allow for this. His design for sex is that all of
someone is embraced in a lifetime commitment. When you deal with all of
someone, conflict is sure to come! But the bond of commitment is there to
sustain it. All requires selflessness, which is the definition
of love. Sex and body parts are only one ingredient inside of this recipe, not
something that was designed to be indulged in on their own.
When tempted to lust, the only way to get
beyond the body-part-mindset is to understand that behind every woman’s body is
a full, whole, complex woman. She is a soul. There is a depth and sacredness to
this that I can’t put into words.
If you’re married, you know what I’m saying is
true because you see it every day in your own wife. There may have been a day
when you first met that you only saw her physical attributes, but you now know
she is a much more complex equation than that (praise God). The same is true
for every woman on the planet.
Let the Rewiring Begin
Porn has taught you to
see: BODY. You have to be rewired to see: WOMAN. And to apply what this means. You
look into her eyes because that’s where she is. She is a she,
not a that. She’s not an object to be consumed.
Body parts separated from the person are only
things. God didn’t call you to consume people, taking life away from them, he
called you to bring life to people. This is the foundational
calling of all Christians.
We live on a planet full of human beings.
Full, whole, complex human beings. Porn has taught us that women aren’t fully
human and we’ve been conditioned into believing that lie whenever we consume
them for our selfish gratification.
The path of rewiring means taking the truths
of Scripture and letting them renew our minds (Romans 12:1-2) away from the
lies porn has taught us.
woman is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), full of his dignity,
honor, and complexity.
woman is fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together by God himself
woman has a soul.
woman is God’s.
Repeat these truths to yourself daily when you
spend time praying and reading your Bible. Repeat them in prayer all throughout
The next time your eyes want to go toward a
woman’s body, remind yourself of the truth that she is a whole person and all
that means. Look her in the eyes and see her that way.
I was shocked when they announced the title of
the next book study that we would be doing. I was sitting in a room in my
church next to Zack, surrounded by other small group leaders. “This is a
conversation that we need to have more often in church,” my pastor said. “The
world is talking about sex, but the church is often silent. We need to change
He went on to share how struggles with porn
addiction, adultery, sexual promiscuity, and uncontrolled lust were shattering
church families and individuals within our own body. “That’s why it’s crucial
for all of us, as leaders, to equip ourselves within the area of biblical
sexuality so we can lean into the brokenness and pain all around us.”
He held up the book that would become our
newest study. It was titled, Finally Free:
Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace. I sat there
amazed that a church pastor and leader was initiating a book study for all his
church’s small group leaders on the topic of sexuality and purity. This wasn’t
the norm in mainstream Christianity. Topics like porn, masturbation, and lust
weren’t everyday conversations within the church.
My heart silently rejoiced.
This would be a game
changer and much-needed shift in our church culture and I couldn’t wait to dig
We would finally have open and honest
conversations about one of the most crucial and personal areas of our lives.
Why We Need to Embrace Conversations About Sexuality
As modern Christian women, I think many of us
would be surprised if our pastor initiated a book study (for men and women) on
the topic of sex, sexuality, and purity. Although these conversations are
slowly becoming more common within Christian circles, they’ve been largely
ignored by many churches for far too long. This silence has created a Church
culture of embarrassment and shame when it comes to topics surrounding
sexuality. This is tragic.
God and sexuality have become opposites rather
than complimentary companions. And as a result, this is the one thing
Christian girls don’t know about sexuality.
We forget that God is the author, designer,
and creator of our sexuality. We forget that conversations about lust, secret
sins, porn, masturbation, and erotica should be happening within the Church. We
forget that we are spiritual beings as much as we are sexual beings. We forget
that the Church should be the first place we breach these topics, not the last.
We forget that our sexual struggles are something God wants us to bring to Him,
not work through on our own. We forget that our sexuality is a beautiful part
of God’s greater story.
One of the driving motivations in writing my
new book, Sex, Purity, and
the Longings of a Girl’s Heart, was to help bring these
conversations back into the church. Back into small groups. Back into Christian
circles. Back into normal conversations.
Jesus Wasn’t Shy About Sexuality
When Jesus met the woman at the well in John
4, He wasn’t shy about her sexual struggles.
He wastes no time in getting to the heart of
her sexual pain and brokenness. She tries to keep the conversation on the
surface by talking about theology and religion, but Jesus takes a deeper dive.
He goes for her heart. He asks her to call her husband, already knowing that
she had been married five times and was currently living with a man who was not
her husband (v. 16-18).
He sees straight into this woman’s inner
longings and knows she has been trying to fill a spiritual need with temporal
fixes. He offers her love, compassion, and calls her to embrace the Living
Water that will never run dry. Amazed and astonished by His insight and
willingness to meet her in her brokenness, she runs off into the city rejoicing
in God and telling everyone about the Messiah.
That same Jesus who
leaned into that woman’s sexual pain and brokenness is the same Jesus we serve
and worship today.
He is not a God who is shy or embarrassed by
our sexuality, but a God who created that aspect of our lives and wants to help
us embrace it rightly. If Jesus Himself wasn’t shy about pursuing conversations
about sexuality, then we, His Church, shouldn’t be either.
“As you think back on your personal journey,
what has shaped your beliefs about sex? Whether negative or positive, what has
been most influential in your life?
So much of the confusion surrounding our
sexuality is a result of being discipled by the world. The only way to redeem
our sexuality is to turn back to the One who created us. Instead of continuing
to listen to the world, we need to be discipled by the One who designed us. The
One who loves us and created us. The One who understands our sexuality and has
a good and beautiful plan for it.”
Conversations about sexuality belong in the
Church and amongst God’s people.
Will You Help Start the Conversation?
He holds the answers to life, health, and
freedom in this area. I pray you will join me in leading the charge by starting
these much-needed conversations within your own church. I pray that my book
would also be a helpful tool and resource for you as you begin talking about
sexual issues more amongst women.
God and sexuality go hand-in-hand. Let’s be
intentional as Christian women to disciple one another in the area of sexuality
as much as we do in everything else.
love to hear from you below!
is the climate of your church right now? Is sexuality a normal topic of
conversation or is it taboo?
do you personally wish more Churches would talk about regarding sexuality?
can you do to lead in your church by bringing these conversations to the
No sex in heaven? Many might ask what the other options are at this point!
One of the reasons this news shocks us is because we view sex and heaven selfishly. Culturally, sex has become a selfish act of consumption. And our view of heaven is typically a place of self-centered utopia. We picture beaches and paradise and all the pleasure for ourselves that we can dream of, often not with much thought about God being around at all. This me-centered paradise is a great match for lots of sex for all of eternity. In fact, several of the main world religions promise this (maybe a clue that those religions were made up by a man? But I digress…)
But thank goodness that’s not what heaven, or sex, is meant to be according to the Bible.
Sex is a one-flesh relationship that bonds a man and a woman together in every way possible. It’s why this one-flesh relationship can only function healthily within marriage. The one-flesh bond includes full acceptance and commitment to all a person is, not simply their body parts (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6, 1 Corinthians 6:15-16). You are one flesh, at all times, in all ways, which can’t be undone.
This sounds pretty amazing, and deep, and night-and-day different from what our culture calls “sex” today. But there’s more. This sex and this one flesh don’t exist for their own end. They aren’t the destination, they are simply another sign post. A sign post pointing to where?
What Sex Really Points To
After giving a treatise on marriage and sex, Ephesians 5 concludes with the following:
“’For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).
Heyo! The whole time Paul was talking about husbands and wives and marriage and sex in Ephesians 5, it says here he was actually talking about Jesus and us! Marriage and sex are metaphors for the relationship we have with Jesus.
What is a metaphor? It is a sign post. It points to the real thing. It’s something tangible we can look at in order to understand something else. It’s a symbol we can learn from in order to understand and experience the real thing.
The real thing is the one-flesh relationship Jesus desires to have with each of us. It’s the relationship he has with those who call themselves Christians. It’s a relationship of intimate love and acceptance and support and trust, where Jesus is the groom and we are the bride. Earthly marriage and sex are symbols that can help point us toward the real thing.
This is why there is no sex in heaven. You don’t need sign posts when you’ve arrived at the destination!
It’d be like driving to Disney World and parking the car at the green highway sign with the white text of “DISNEY WORLD” and the white arrow pointing to the off ramp. Imagine parking your car there, taking a selfie with the family, and then driving home, telling everyone you’d been to Disney World!
The destination is always better than the sign post.
Heaven Is Not a Perpetual Fast
Some might disagree! But the reason for the disagreement is because we’ve been worshiping the sign post for far too long and we simply don’t have the full experience of the real thing yet. In talking of the perspective that heaven would be a “perpetual fast” from sex in the minds of some, C.S. Lewis had this to say:
“…or else of a perpetual fast. As regards the fast, I think our present outlook might be like that of a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure, should immediately ask whether you ate chocolates at the same time. On receiving the answer no, he might regard absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him that the reason why lovers in their carnal raptures don’t bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate: he does not know the positive thing that excludes it.
We are in the same position. We know the sexual life; we do not know, except in glimpses, the other thing which, in Heaven, will leave no room for it.”
A boy can’t understand if you try to tell him sex is the highest bodily pleasure, because he is convinced chocolate is and isn’t ready to understand sex. We can’t understand that pure intimacy with God in his direct presence is what makes heaven, Heaven, not that it’s some me-centered place where we eat Bons Bons on the beach, while watching Netflix, and of course, having sex. Nor can we fully grasp that intimacy with God is better than sex, both now and for all eternity. But the truth remains, which we are exhorted to believe and live by.
This is fantastic news. We worship sex on earth, but it’s also our place of deepest longing and brokenness. A single person feels unloved because they don’t have a sexual partner. A married person goes to pornography, an affair, or fantasy, because the sexual partner they do have isn’t satisfying them.
The Answer to Our Longing for Sex
The answer to our longing for sex is not sex! It’s intimacy with Jesus. We get to experience this intimacy on earth. This unconditional love where God adopts us as his sons and daughters and is well-pleased with us and we are fully accepted into his arms because of what Jesus did on the cross for us. But imagine this experience in a fully direct, physical way. Wow! That is heaven.
This gives us reason to not worship sex and it also reminds us we don’t need sex. Whether we experience the sign post or not is somewhat irrelevant. What is relevant is that we take God at his word that the destination will be much better, attuning all of our navigational tools toward that destination, not any metaphor, imitation, or sign post along the way.